Civilization: A Short Unexpected Journey through a Religious Past
By: J. Marlando
Before diving into the tangled wings of so-called civilization, we need to define the term itself. My dictionary says: Civilization. 1. HIGHLY DEVELOPED SOCIETY, a society that has a high level of culture and social organization. This sounds far more like the coming attractions than the main event and so my own definition might serve the truth a little closer: Civilization.
1. AN UNNATURAL ENVIRONMENT, a society wherein everyone lives in centers in a state of wanting more.
No one knows exactly how or when civilization began to unfold but it is a safe assumption that it arrived with the advent of agriculture—the raising of food and the domesticating of animals. Our kind would have gathered together in groups to protect their stuff from marauders. These farming communities would eventuate into city/states where the first politicians would rise above the general population and give birth to demagoguery. Demagoguery was destined to rule throughout all the following millenniums, is still ruling today and will continue to rule in our tomorrows to come.
One of the earliest developers of civilization was the Sumerians who marched into Lower Mesopotamia and imposed their culture and language across the land. The Sumerians incidentally were modern Arab types—black hair, darker skin and, I would imagine, a sense of self-righteousness which is obviously a trait that arrives from nurture and not nature. You know, kind of like Southern Baptists of the western world although we are speaking of a time long before religion, science and/or art was formed. In fact, the early historic juncture where we are now at is at least three thousand years before the Hebraic culture began blossoming. Nevertheless, we now know that civilization’s first major war was fought at a place called Hamouker near Eastern Syria and Iraq around 5,500 years ago. But of course civilization is grounded in war. How do I know? Well, the same way I know that Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so!
Some of the Bible was probably already being developed in these early times through the oral traditions. The Sumerians, by the way, claimed to have been a “civilized” people for thousands of years before the great flood and so for millenniums before their advance into Mesopotamia.
Skipping right ahead, civilization as we think of it doesn’t really occur until the Babylonians came down from the mountains of old Persia and began building their cities. The Babylonians, however, were finally conquered in 2750 B.C. by a chieftain named Sargon Sargon, however, was in turn conquered by Hammurabi around 2100 B.C.—Hammurabi laid the earliest cornerstone to modern civilization—he was after all the creator of centralized government and a code of laws preserved in cuneiform clay tablets like this one.
Thanks to Hammurabi two of the world’s most arrogant tyrants were wed: Demagoguery and Bureaucracy. The rest of course…is history!
The Grand Old Civilizations
By the time of the heyday of Athens the first democratic government had been formed. This was a place where philosophy, male bisexuality and extreme sexism prevailed. Men indeed were deemed beautiful, intelligent and esteemed while women were considered little more than necessary evil. (Less than a thousand years later the idea of females being necessarily evil would become church doctrine since Eve would be blamed for bringing “original sin” into the world).
In any case, ancient democracy was no more a people’ government than modern democracy is. In fact, it was our own Abraham Lincoln who confused us peons with the meaning of democracy.
Honest Abe told us that we have a government “for, of and by the people.” This has never been the case in the U.S. or anyplace else: In Athens the “democracy” was conducted and run by the elite of the city not the ordinary citizen any more than some Jane or John Doe influencing government in our times. Yet, the common description of democracy is, “the free and equal right of every person to participate in a system of government.” The common description is wrong at worst and exaggerated at best.
Nevertheless, truth told, as poorly and absurdly as governments run things if we actually had a (pure) democracy we would immediately have mobocracy. The collective mind of the people would lack reason to say the least! (This of course is the anarchists Achilles’s heel. Most people are much like sheep. They seek leadership and, typically, become lost lambs when they don’t have it).
In any case, while sexism persisted in both the Greek and Hebrew societies some women held great influences over their men: Historically the burning of Persepolis by Alexander was inspired by his mistress. (She would eventually marry Ptolemy I and become Queen of Egypt). There was Aspasia who had a political salon in Athens and who some of the most powerful men of those times consulted. It is said that she was responsible for Athens declaring war on Samos. So many women were empowered in spite of the prejudice against them. And, we can assume that a great many wives “ruled the roost” behind the closed doors of the Athenian household.
This was also no doubt true for the Hebrew but women for the Jews were publicly held in just as low esteem as they were in Greece. Well, the Jewish culture by then had been Hellenized in any case. In many ways the Hebrews adopted the Greek social views and may even have given their god a similar image as Zeus sitting on his throne as seen here As King of the world but the Jewish God was far more complex and mystical than the Greek. He was called YHWH which means “The self-existent one.”
The Jews also did not except the openness of homosexuality of the Greeks. Their religion did not permit it as they saw it unfavorable onto God. (Actually every culture has had its population of genetic homosexuals but most, like the Jewish culture, kept it culturally buried and attempted to ignore it. Historically only the Greeks and later the 15th century Yucatan Mayans institutionalized it and made it a part of their socio-political environment).
For the next few hundred years, life most basically continued as it always had: leaders came and went and war was the ultimate reality. Then an unexpected fly in the ancient, intellectual ointment: Jesus!
Sweet Jesus and Civilization
The first question that arrives when we speak of Jesus is…was he an actual person? I have personally spent many decades pondering this very question. Space here does not allow me to fully explain how I’ve come to my conclusion but the answer is “yes.” There was once a holy (or wise) man that became an outcast of the Jewish tradition at a time when the Hebrew culture was being infiltrated by Roman Rule.
One major fact that convinced me of Jesus’ historic existence is that oral traditions placed him in the modernism of the times, not in some unknowable distance as the Greeks placed Dionysus in Greek mythology, the Egyptians placed Osiris in Egypt and the Babylonians placed Baal in Babylonia. Each of these “gods,” incidentally, was born of virgins, lived a life of toil for all mankind and was known by names such as Healer, Mediator and Savior. (I’ll get into all this a little later).
Jesus was a teacher (a Rabbi) that defied the hypocrisies of his times. Obvious examples of this are the stories of attacking the money changers in the temple and refusing to accept the Jewish dictates about the Sabbath (called Shabbat in Hebrew) being a holy day of rest and spiritual observation. The Sabbath was made for man,” he said, “not man for the Sabbath.” And, Jesus apparently recognized the equality of women at a time when equality was not at all on the cultural menu of the Jewish religious/civil authority.
Jesus was a religious-socio reformer; a beloved rebel for some and a hated fanatic by others. His teachings, however, were never anti-Judaism. Indeed there is not a pin drop of evidence or even a slight indication that he started his own religion much less was god “himself” who was made manifest through the magic of a virgin birth. All that mythology would no doubt evolve in Rome a long time after his death.
Actually, the virgin birth is mentioned in only two of the four gospels and, as far as the Catholic assertion that *Mary remains an eternal virgin, it is historically well known that she had other children beside Jesus as this is even mentioned in all four of the gospels. Nevertheless and in the wake of all these rather paradoxical accounts, a wise, spiritual teacher by the name of **Jesus who began preaching throughout Galilee and was destined to impact the entire world. Especially the Western world as Buddha had impacted the East.
In light of the above, I believe it is safe to say that after the death of Jesus his group of followers, probably called Nazarites continued to celebrate the life of Jesus and his teachings as a devoted group. And, slowly, their group began to grow in numbers. The Nazarites, incidentally, were associated with the Essene community at Qumran.
Truth told, there was no official conflict between Jew and Roman at the time of Jesus—a few Jews even saw the infiltration as a positive. There were some benefits being under the wing of the empire. In any case, we cannot know exactly when the followers of the historic Jesus broke from the Jewish traditions and began Christianity. Christianity, however, would have begun as a Jewish Sect and for Romans would have been seen as a Jewish movement. Indeed, the first official persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire was in 64 A.D. when Nero ruled and when Peter and Paul were martyred. Blame for the “Great Fire of Rome” was blamed on the Christians which stirred hate against them throughout the empire.
The Christian persecution lasted for over two and a half centuries because Christians refused to participate in Pagan rituals, which was a crime punishable by death. In fact, in 303-311, the emperor ordered all Christian buildings and homes torn down and their sacred books burned. In 311 the right to practice Christianity was returned by Galerius, senior emperor of Tetrarchy. Soon enough Constantine would make Christianity Rome’s official religion.
It is said that the Emperor Constantine was greatly influenced by his mother Helena but whatever his influence Christianity became the official religion giving birth to the Church of Rome.
*The Semitic word that translates into “Virgin” was almah which merely meant “young woman.”
**Jesus would NOT have recognized being called Jesus Christ—Christ as Christian was a term that never came into being until long after his death. His name was Yeshu which is Joshua in English and Jesus in Greek.
Civilization and Catholicism
By the time that the Universal Church of Rome (Catholic means universal) became the empires official religion, church leaders already had the Gospels in their hands—while parts of the New Testament reports what Jesus said and did during his lifetime, probably written from stories passed down through the decades, none were written directly by the disciples. Mark was written around the year 70, around 40 years after Jesus’ death. All the Gospels were written in Greek. Jesus’ language was Aramaic which is a distinct relative to Hebrew. Did Jesus or his followers speak Greek? It is possible, but not likely as the Greeks had tremendous influence over the Jews.
Return to Jesus for a moment, his messages were very simple and pure: Love God, love our neighbor as ourselves, give to the poor; treat others as we would be treated, the kingdom of God is within, be forgiving, and that we are all one with God. (He said the father and I are one—a long distance form saying I am the father…He referred to himself as the son of man and sometimes as a prophet—a long distance from saying that he was the son of God). In any case, anything that varies from these truths is the obvious works of lesser men. The thought that Jesus said, “Think not that I come to send peace on earth, but a sword.” This phrase, like many others are obvious concepts of the church placed in the mouth of Jesus, “…I tell ye, nay: but unless you repent, ye shall all likewise parish.” My favorite of these is, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent thee and follow the gospel.” The gospel…a greater interpretive study of the gospel needs to be discriminated between what a loving Jesus would have said and what an institution would have promoted to gain and maintain followers. (This incidentally isn’t only my opinion. Thomas Jefferson stated that parts of the gospel came from an “extraordinary man, and other parts from very inferior minds).
The fear of “perishing” would have indeed affected the Pagan who was superstitious by his/her very nature and so the fear of hell’s fire has been a Christ recruiting tool since Rome. In fact, Roman church made a business out of it by selling penances out of the confession booth. It took more than fear, however, to evangelize Christianity for the pagans. Thus, the great pagan myths were incorporated into the Christian teachings: Indeed, the pagan rituals included the winter solstice and spring equinox. (These ancient “holy days” were named Christmas and Easter for Christians and made an easy transition for the newly converted at the time). Then came the crucifixion and resurrection stories that matched the pagan myths—Mirtha was born in a cave and given his virgin birth on December 25th—he was a great teacher who had twelve companions—died and was buried in a tomb before he rose again. This is similar to the pagan tale of Osirus, born on the 17th day of December and led a life teaching others—it was said that he was the discoverer of corn and wine. Nevertheless, he was betrayed by the power of darkness and slain but later comes to life again. Like so many others the mythology is connected to both the astronomical and vegetation myths and the Church of Rome didn’t mind adopting those myths to expand their membership with a population of pagans who simply did not want to give up their beliefs and rituals.
To reinforce all this Constantine claimed that he experienced a dramatic event in the year 312 at the battle of Milvian Bridge. According to the story the leader looked into the sun before the battle and saw a cross of light above it with the Greek words that told him “by this, win.” As a result, Constantine commanded his troops to adorn their shields with a Christian symbol (the Chi-Rho), and they were victorious. Thereafter Constantine publicly ignored the altars of the pagan gods as a statement of his accepting Christianity which would at least at the unconsciously level, be directly connected to all the old sun god beliefs. This was something that the pagans would be much more apt to accept!
All this could continue on but the only point I am intent on making here is that the church eventually gained political as well as religious power by becoming masters at Hammurabi’s two gifts to civilization: bureaucracy and demagoguery! It was upon these two rocks, after all, that the future was to be built upon.
Civilization and the Dark Ages
During the fourth century the church rose rapidly as an institution—Augustine, the church’s pampered intellectual was asked to interpret Genesis and after studying the story concluded that the reason that Adam and Eve was expelled from the Garden was that they became conscious of their sexuality; their lustfulness! He believed that the guilt of their transgression from grace was transmitted down through Adam and Eve’s descendent—that you and I—and therefore we were all born in “original sin.” As a result, our natural sexual instincts would, for the first time in history, become shameful and guilt-ridden. (I have been of the opinion for years that at least half of the world’s sexual neurosis and neurotic behaviors can be traced back to Augustine’s 4th century translation. In any case, human sexuality was already being condemned as being filthy and degrading. This brings us to Augustine’s well known prayer: Dear God, give me chastity—but not yet).
The church was already controlling private and public life and by the late 500s A.D. they were controlling the entire Western World. This included religion, politics, art, education and much of the civil law—by this time the pope was so powerful that he could give and take empires by will since it was believed that he was Christ’s vigor and as such, he was to be recognized as Christ’s representative by every peasant and slave but also by the highest rulers. No one on earth was more powerful than the head of the Roman Catholic Church. And the Pope had deemed himself infallible.
The Dark Ages were unfolding. Indeed, ignorance prevailed as the Church claimed that anyone not accepting the Pope as Gods earthly representative was a heretic and was damned without salvation—salvation of sinners became the work of the priests and accordingly everyone needed saved—this fear tactic has trickled down through the history of Christianity even into our own times and to make matters even more “insane,” suffering has somehow come to be thought of as a major road to salvation. One more seed of neurotic behavior into the psyche of western civilization!
Jesus…Christ…had become a mere icon for Christianity. His teachings had been buried beneath a stack of dogmas, doctrines and canon laws. His demonstrations of forgiveness were disregarded and forgiveness was given to the powers of the priests; His universal love was abandoned for self-centeredness and institutionalized nepotism. As a result Jesus’ teachings became disregarded except within the rhetoric of the church. (This would remain a trait of so-called Christianity even into our own times with an, “if you ain’t us, you’re a them,” attitude or, in other words, a religiosity that loves one neighbor as themselves as long as that neighbor is themselves).
In any case, as the Roman Church was gaining power, Rome was becoming vulnerable to outside invasions and weakened by its own pomposity and greed. And, the “barbarians” had invariably included great warrior tribes such as the Franks, Gepids and Huns. Most were pagans but especially the Franks were converted to Catholicism.
As a quick aside—the Catholic Franks treated their “martyrs” to far worse torture than the Roman’s ever had theirs: They would cut off hand and feet, take out eyes, burn with pokers and were…well…as barbaric as one can imagine. However, historically, a great many of Rome’s poor actually joined the invaders (or gave them support) because of the very deep and wide gap between the Roman people and the minority of the rich and powerful who ruled pompously and often cruelly over them.
While there were great many causes for the “fall of Rome” not excluding great inflation of their currency and enemies widespread along their vast borders (wars upon wars) but the real weakness came from within. The Roman elite (also known as government) had become so self-serving and self-aggrandizing that the ordinary citizen, treated like so much dung, became resentful and rebellious. When pride of Rome was lost by the people, Rome was lost!
(Something to think about)
Rome was actually still holding on to some of its power if not its prestige into the 600s. During the later 600s, however, the Church of Rome was also losing a lot of its grip on the people. In some regions there where many returning to paganism—this would include England—so the very face of Rome and so the known world was reshaping itself. In the meantime, a great and fierce competitor was rising up out of the desert lands—Islam was unfolding!
Civilization, the Crusades and Inquisition
It is probably safe to say that the two most destructive and dangerous aspects of civilization has always been nationalism and religion.
When nationalism and religion are born out of bureaucracy and demagoguery, which they always are, hatefulness and fear prevail in each divided center—the “us” and “them” mentality is fed by leadership creating great gaps between cultures and so peoples. Every government, ancient and modern, that desires to conquer other lands for power or wealth or markets, will first instill fear and hate in their own population to gain the people’s support for warring. (The two masters at this were America and Russia during the decades of the Cold War). In any case, returning more directly to our topic, Christendom was suddenly destined to have an unexpected enemy—the Muslims, ever as interested in world power as the Catholics Christians.
To understand the Crusades is to understand ancient history and finally the very absurdities of our species. For one thing, in the far reaches of grasping the Crusades one must return to the advent of civilization itself and the very ancient city of Ur, the supposed birthplace of Abraham, God’s chosen one to be leader of many nations; who brought the law of circumcision into the world and became the “father” of the Big-3 world’s religions—Christianity figuratively and literally by the Muslims and Jews. For all three, Jerusalem was/is a place of tremendous importance. Indeed, the wars would begin with a vicious attack on the Holy Land to recover it for Christianity.
By the time of Richard the Lion Hearted and the Crusades of his times, a great advance in the technology of war had occurred. The crossbow! Indeed, so dangerous was this weapon that the Vatican declared that it could only be used on non-Christians.
Both sides—Christian and Muslim—proved to be cruel and barbaric as the other. There was a time that the Christians under Richard’s command were fighting Muslims during the Third Crusade: The Muslin leader Saladin had regained Jerusalem and Richard mounted a campaign to take it back. In order to reconquer Jerusalem it became essential to first capture the port city of Acre—the year now was 1191.
The Muslims surrendered when they ran out of food and supplies and, as was customary in those days, Richard offered the Muslim leader, Saladin, a deal: Saladin would release 2,000 Christian captives and pay 200,000 dinars but the population of Acre, the town where the Muslims had been living, had to leave the city with nothing but the clothes on their back.
To make a long story short: Richard did not like the way Saladin handled the “payoff” and so he ordered all 22,700 Muslim prisoners out and had them all slaughtered in sight of the enemy. Saladin retaliated by ordering the death of 1,600 Christian prisoners.
The inhumanness on both sides is apparent as all war is apparently inhumane. The Crusades would continue to be vicious and would not end until the 9th Crusade—often combined with the 8th—in 1272. (No one would have or could have imagined that a pseudo holy war would resume in our times. But of course all religious wars are pseudo in any case, since their motivations are never religious but rather quite materialistic and self-serving).
And speaking of self-serving, we will speak of the Inquisition for a moment: Especially by the time that the Church began to notice a strong appeal for the people to return to paganism, the Inquisition was inspired. And so, anyone who did not accept the Roman Catholic Church and its Pope as representative of God on earth became a “heretic.” Heretics were tortured unmercifully and those who didn’t confess were eventually murdered for the church by the civil authority.
Now the insanity of all this is enough to send shivers up one’s spine but now let’s get to the business end of the Inquisition—It was actually started in 12th-century France but soon it spread all over Europe and the Church made “deals” with enforcers to divide the proceeds.
The great incentive for the Inquisition was, in a term, money honey—everyone who was accused and found guilty of being a heretic had his property and belongings confiscated—the church was growing its wealth as they coerced confessions and murdered the confessors; this is not much different than what occurs in modern societies when it comes to confiscating property.
Finally, the cruelty was too much even for the medieval mind. In Venice, for example, the Senate there refused to execute heretics delivered to them. The Pope at the time, Leo X, was angered by their refusal to carry out executions ordered by the church. Shockingly, the Inquisition to one extent or another lasted into the mid-1800s. But much of the so-called civilized mentality is based on the Inquisitionist’s mandate: Freedom to follow the yellow line.
The Dark Ages were the age of Feudalism also: A legal and social system wherein the rich rule over the poor; the legacy of elitism!
Civilization, Feudalism and Protestantism
Forms of feudalism developed in the 8th century but it isn’t until the 10th century until nearly all of Europe is Christian and under the thumb of the Church: The major feudal players were from a small group of religious aristocrats favored by the church: The pope—as God’s representative, is himself a feudal lord holding vast secular as well as religious powers. And, as far as this is concerned, in 1059 the Pope actually ordered the Normans to attack Sicily and offered them feudal rights for doing so. The problem was that the land didn’t belong to the Pope which didn’t matter anyway. After all, any war approved by the Pope…was approved by God!
As the Fall of Rome wedged itself more and more into the historical, monarchies began to arise with “lords” of vast amounts of land “lording it over peasants” living on that land with both economic and military support. Actually the land is thought to first belong to the king and when the king decides to parcel out some of his land he does so to nobleman who he favors. (This is much like modern government giving certain “favored” companies contacts and so forth—nepotism, after all, has always been the cornerstone of church and state).
In any case, the lord in turn parceled out land to knights and lesser nobles (called holding in fief) to raise small armies of their own to be at the ready if the king needs help or decided to war on some other kingdom. In turn the knights and noblemen permit peasants a small patch of land to work until the day they die handing over a large portion of their produce to the Lord of the land they live on.
This system can become quite complicated to fully understand since not all poor people lived under the conditions of feudalism—only those living and farming on the land of lords. As far as medieval towns, they are generally under the highest lords or even the king himself. And so feudalism was really an agricultural system for very poor folk; a system similar to the sharecropper and tendency system especially for blacks in post-Civil War for and later for whites especially during the 1930s and 40s. American sharecroppers, however, were not under the thumb of the land owner as was the old European peasant and the land was under private ownership as opposed to being federal or state owned.
And speaking of America—by the earlier 1500s, the New World was already in its very early stages of development. Indeed, Florida had already been claimed by Spain and African slaves were already being transported there. It was in 1514 that Copernicus said the ancient belief that the earth was the center of the universe and the sun circles it…was wrong. Indeed, the Polish astronomer placed himself in danger by announcing this observation because it made him vulnerable to being accused of heresy—After all, all the “infallible” popes had sanctioned the belief that the sun rotated around our little planet. And If this wasn’t “bad” enough only a couple of years later an Augustine Monk by the name of Martin Luther is hammering an attack against his church for selling indulgences and granting forgiveness of sins for a price. This was a very daring thing to do as selling indulgences had been a very lucrative business and the Catholic Church had always been a very lucrative minded institution.
A new institution was on the horizon for the next change in civilization. Protestantism!
While Martin Luther is named the “father” of Protestantism it was basically Calvin who politicalized it and claimed a wider separation from Catholicism than Martin had—Calvinists, in deed, would basically be the world’s first Bible Thumpers.
Henry VIII King of England at the time, was a devout Catholic but wanted to divorce his present wife—too old to give him an heir—and remarry. The Pope refused him permission (for political reasons—Catherine of Aragon was the aunt to the Emperor Charles V. a person the Church did not want as an enemy.) As a result Henry became a Protestant and remarried anyway.
Actually Henry’s son, Edward, became King but he died young and his half-sister, Mary replaced him. By then Protestantism had become the religion of England but Mary was a devout Catholic and wanted to reinstitute Catholicism. She became known as Bloody Mary because it was during her reign that Protestants were tortured and murdered (Actually some say it was Mary Tutor who created the Protestant martyrs and was the real Bloody Mary but the horrifying fate of so many Protestants occurred during Mary’s rule in any case).
Elizabeth would follow Mary to the throne and—probably due to public desire, returned England to Protestantism and Christianity would be (officially) divided from that time forward.
Civilization, America and the Puritans
Actually there were a great count of people who remained Catholic in England while a great many others made the Church of England their cup of tea, so to speak. There was also a group of Protestants that thought the Church of England too corrupt and wanted to separate from it. It was those Separatists wanting to purify England’s religion became the Puritans who came to America for “religious freedom.”
The first wave of Puritan settlers landed at Naumkeag in 1629. Naumkeag would be renamed Salem later.
The irony was that while those “dear hearts and gentle people” came to America for freedom of religion, they wanted that freedom only for themselves and tortured and/or banished all those who…well…weren’t them. As a result of their fanaticism they forced their way on a great many colonists and would have an uncanny influence on America’s future.
The truth is that the Puritans were an ignorant lot and basically cruel-minded and so once again the teachings of Jesus were buried beneath church doctrine—fornicators flogged, adulterers were branded and if an infant was born on a Sunday he or she was refused baptism because it was assumed that he or she was conceived on a Sunday. Constant law breakers and weak-minded Puritans were either burned or hanged as witches. It was, in fact, Puritans who started the first war with the Indians. In 1643, a group of Puritan men and other colonists following orders from the governor of New Amsterdam to massacre a tribe of Indians after a farmer had been murdered. The Puritans and others snuck through the darkness of night and into the Wappinger’s village—a friendly tribe by the way—and killed men, women and children while they slept. Of the few that managed to survive their fate was even worse: one prisoner was castrated, skinned alive and made to eat his own flesh which actually made the Dutch governor laugh. (So much for loving one’s neighbors and “civilized” humor we can say).
By the 1700s the New World’s roads became crowded with other Protestant cults—Congregationalists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers and Lutherans—only a handful of Catholics and Jews. Nevertheless it was the Puritan Bloodstream that would seep into America’s bloodstream in the guise of a work ethic. The Puritans feared pleasure and fun, adored labor and, if you will, long faces. They even forbid bathing except for once a month from fear that one’s own naked body would be a sinful temptation. That’s right—they were a neurotic lot but that neuroticism—the idea that sex and sin are synonymous—was passed down from the ancient Catholics and carried on by the more recent Protestants. But Protestantism is based on Catholic mythologies anyway. Indeed, it is the supposed suffering of Christ that has become the focus of Christianity not Jesus’ love or celebration of the kingdom within; not the oneness with God that he preached!
These are some of the reasons that so many of America’s founding fathers were Deists and not Christian and why George Washington said to the world that we were absolutely not a Christian nation. Nevertheless, Christianity was destined to become America’s greatest influence and in fact, it was the Christians leaders that became the first lobbyists, which is how we were given most of our social mores. Religion of nearly every kind but especially Western religion wants to control private and public life. Indeed, sin, suffering and salvation are the three cornerstones of Christianity and the forth is…fear. Christians, by and large, are indoctrinated to fear God and fear damnation. There can be no better tools of coercion than this and this can easily be traced back to the Church of Rome. (Deism incidentally, is finding God through intelligent pursuit and the understanding of God through reason, nature and experience—not through religion or any of its documents or gospels. The Deists included Tom Paine, Tom Jefferson, Ben Franklin and George Washington…there were certainly a population of Christians amidst the founders too but, in any case, freedom of religion meant NOT having any specific national religion as there had been in Europe and as was demonstrated by England’s Protestantism).
After the American Revolution, however, The United States, in a term, took on a Christian’s face which looked down its nose at non-Christians. The Native Americans would suffer most from this: American Indians would have their lands stolen, their people massacred, starved, and diseased mostly by the church-going “righteous.”
Over thousands of years the religious proved to a warring class and yes a competition between warrior gods and mythological saviors. Then Jesus began teachings simple love and forgiveness; kindness and of human tolerance. This religiosity is probably what the early followers of Jesus—the Jewish Nazarenes —attempted to live by until it was institutionalized by less well intended people and made into a bureaucracy of demagogues and demons.
Civilization and War
If organized religion could be given a theme song it would be Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition. Civilization began with warriors, god/kings and high priests—the foundation of the unfolding future began with civics; the cornerstone for centeredness throughout civilization itself.
Wars persisted for thousands of years with one clan/tribe/cults and religion against another—everyone had gods for just about everything! Ancient history gets confusing, however, since for most of those early times it was the Goddess and not the God that was supreme; the giver of life and death. Then as history…or legend would have it, a holy man came out of the city of UR to proclaim a male deity as being over all other gods and mankind; a mighty god that would direct Moses and his people across a treacherous desert, divide waters and grant victories in…what else…wars.
The Greeks would have such a god in Zees and Zeus, as MOST ancient gods, was as human as he was heavenly—he liked his women, wine and song! It would be the Greeks that most influenced much of the unfolding civilized world and the Greeks were an extremely warring people.
To the ancient Greeks as it was with most ancient people, the theology was based on polytheism. That is, many gods and goddesses. And, as said in the above paragraph, they were given human traits. According to the Iliad, Zeus supported the Trojans while Hera and Poseidon supported the Greek side. It is really a challenge to keep all the gods and goddesses straight in their history and I do not claim to be able to.
Anyway, the Persians were a vast army of warriors who tried a couple of times to sack Greece but failed. What the Persian king hoped to do was stop the Greeks from interfering in his large domain. No matter, neither he or his son, Xerxes, succeeded and so once the war with the Persians were over the Greeks returned to warring against themselves. This internal fighting weakened Greece and permitted the Macedonian to dominate—the Macedonian king was Phillip II and when he died, his son, Alexander, took charge. We all know a little of that history!
In America the first major war was with Mexico (1846-1848) for which a battalion of Mormons volunteered to fight in.
As an aside, Mormons are members of The Church of Latter Day Saints, an American born religion started by a self-appointed prophet by the name of Joseph Smith in the 1820s. Like other religions they live in their own center teaching that their way is the way while growing the wealth and power of the church. Part of the Mormon mythology is that Jesus Christ actually organized his church while on earth but after he ascended to heaven people changed the teachings and fell away from the truth. The Church of Latter Day Saints projects being Jesus’ restored church on earth and that both the Bible and Book of Mormon are the word of God. As it has been throughout history this kind of unique form of Christianity dwells on the authority of the church and makes heavenly promises for all those who are obedient to its rules and rituals. As it is with all fanatical beliefs, the Mormons indoctrinate their children from birth as Muslims and devoted Catholics have always done. Well, as all cultists do.
Anyway, the war with Mexico was America’s earliest attempt of expansionism; that ancient drive to grow one’s center through force. In this case, California was on the U.S.’s menu of justifications along with parts of New Mexico and other territories of the South. And speaking of Justification—The New York Journal of Commerce suggested that “…the Universal Yankee nation can regenerate and disenthrall the people of Mexico in a few years and we believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country.” And if this is not pompous enough, Senator H.V. Johnson brought God into justifying the war with the belief in the doctrine of “manifest destiny.” And so, eager American men rushed to join the effort that God himself had designed. On the same side of the coin, America leadership was calling the war a war of defense and so, by and large, the people favored it. Most of the churches, incidentally, were pro-war, an interesting observation to say the least.
After the war with Mexico, the Civil War was heating up.
In the U.S. internal war was soon to unfold—North and South against each other ending up being one of the bloodiest in world history—600,000 dead out 30 million in a war that the rich could buy their way out of for $300.00 while poor boys had to do the fighting and so the killing and dying.
Then after a few years of relative piece the Spanish American war evolved; a war basically invented by America’s elite, grounded in the Theodore Roosevelt philosophy that what the country needed was a war. In fact, he is known for saying in private, “I should welcome almost any war.”
Again, the American people would be duped by the Hearst Newspapers who would “play ball” with government and big business by creating a campaign that said we needed to free the poor Cubans from Spanish rule. That was all most Americans needed to hear (with few exceptions like the philosopher William James) and the war was given support by the people. In fact, the propaganda campaign worked so well that thereafter whenever government and government’s cronies decided to war, the social engineering would include “to give some little guy FREEDOM from some BIG tyrant like freeing the South Vietnamese people from the vicious north).
The war effort served two purposes—it first of all was a demonstration of America’s world might and secondly it gained a lot of world markets for us but then again, the Spanish American war was…strictly business.
When that war finally ended there was a refreshing peace that returned to the world but of course no one had suspected that world wars were on their way as so-called civilization pushed on.
Civilization began some 10,000 to 15,000 years ago—it probably began as a defense strategy for small agricultural communities with modern people simply growing their own food. Growing food would mean settling in specific (and choice) areas. But living in settled tribal environments made the early “homesteaders” vulnerable to thieves and other dangerous aggressors, man and beast. Thus, forming into groups for safety occurred. With groups came organization and with organization leadership. Once leadership occurred there necessarily had to be followers. It would be leaders and followers that opened the corridors into the future unfolding into new systems of human thought, action and organization.
Once civilization organized, the wilderness was suddenly over there while the “community” and its inhabitants was over here—our kind was no longer one amidst nature, much less one with it but rather distinct from it like demi-gods observing from afar. This distance would continue to expand until people would detach themselves from it altogether. That is, nature would be worshiped for its commodities (like lumber and precious metals) and little more. (In our times, only a very few feel a kindred spirit with nature and therefore is sincerely protective of it especially in the Thoreau/Emerson sense.
Even at the advent of civilization everything became centers—and the nonsense of centralized symbolism evolved: the earliest symbol s of ancient priests became religious symbols, just as the scepter and crown became the symbol of the earthy god/kings.
As an aside, symbolism has been vital to modernism—in the insanity of what we might term modern symbolism people actually become the shoes they wear, the cars they drive and the costumes of their profession—this odd phenomenon has created a persona personality throughout (especially) the western world where symbol has become a more important reality than the simple reality of being a self amidst others. Here’s an example of how far this can go (These are Swastikas on the march). Clearly it can be said that, by and large, we have exchanged our humanism for our labels, our costumes and our other stuff. While this has always affected the world’s elite, it is now a common affect for most people. The Designer Jean mania is wide spread…and growing.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with symbols of course since a great many are positive guides throughout our world—it is only when they begin to represent centers that they become dangerous and destructive it is, after all possible to have opposing views without wanting to kill or enslave the opposition. The atheist has ever as much right as the religious fundamentalist has to his or her views. In other words, I have a right to my rituals and totems just as all others have a right to theirs.
Indeed, since governments apparently may never seek peace—that is peace without surrender—peace must (or should) become the goal of all religions—Religions after all represent the very vast majority of the people. And, it is the people in charge of destiny, even though they have been indoctrinated not to know this about themselves. If, for example, every person on the planet began loving his neighbor as himself no matter what color, race or religion the neighbor is, war would simply go away and politics, as we know them today, would become obsolete. After all, we would stop living in an “us” and “them” world and at long last become an “us” as an intelligent species. We would, in effect, recognize ourselves as Earthlings enjoying (but also sharing) separate cultures, songs, dances, costumes, food and so on. As a result, we would begin to feed the hungry, to house the homeless and to give health care to those who need it and cannot afford it…worldwide! If we actually chose to love our neighbors as ourselves, good Samaritan-ism would naturally and necessarily follow.
Are these thoughts polyannish?
Not if we’re truly…civilized. What do you think?
References and suggested further reading
Alexander Granz G. & Selesnick Sheldon T. * The History of Psychology *Harper & Row
Aries, Philippe & Duby George (Editors) * A History of Private Life * Harvard University Press
Buber, Martin * I and Thou * Simon & Schuster
Carpenter, Edward * The Origins of Pagan and Christina Beliefs * Senate
Davis, Kenneth C. * Don’t Know Much About History * Avon Books
Gardner, Laurence * Bloodline of the Holy Grail * Element Books
Goff, Le Jacques * Medieval Civilization 400—1500 * Barnes & Noble
Harris, Marvin * Our Kind * HarperPerennial
Lewis, Jon E. * Rome *Running Press Book Publishers
Marshack, Alexander * The Roots of Civilization *Mcgraw-Hill
Mitchell, Stephan * Jesus *HarperCollins Publishers
Read, Paul Piers * The Templars *St. Martin’s Press
Tannahill, Reay * Sex in History *Stein and Day
Williamson, Marianne * Healing the Soul of America * A Touchstone Book
Zacks, Richard * An Underground Education * Doubleday
Zeldin, Theodore * and Intimate History of Humanity *HarperCollins
Zinn, Howard * A Peoples History of the United States * HarperPerennial